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Report: CT's Future Will Depend On If English Language Learners Are Prepared



Bill Sarno

The future of the state’s economy and its global competitiveness will largely be determined by how well Connecticut schools prepare their English Language Learners, an area where much work remains to ensure that these students and their families will be successful, according to a report released this week by the Hartford Foundation for Giving.
“Unfortunately, when analyzing education and workforce data, English Language Learners are far behind their English-speaking peers in terms of educational attainment and income,” states the study, which was prepared by  the philanthropic organizations Latino Endowment Fund.
Currently, there are 30,000 ELL students in the state’s public schools, a 50 percent increase since 2001, with most speaking Spanish. Moreover, with the number of foreign-born residents, particularly Latinos and Asians, likely to increase significantly, immigrants and newer arrivals from Puerto Rico and their children are expected to have a major impact on the future workforce in Connecticut.
This trend is a particular concern for the Greater Hartford area, the Foundation’s primary area of service, where the foreign-born will account for almost all growth in the labor force in the coming decades, the report observes.
The Foundation’s analysis arrives less than two weeks after the state Legislature addressed several ELL concerns. These included doubling the maximum months a student can receive ELL services to 60 and earmarking an additional two million dollars for state grants to districts required to provide bilingual education.
Getting the bilingual education changes enacted was one of the “biggest legislative victories” that the Latino and Puerto Rican Affairs Commissions helped achieve during the recent session, said Werner Oyanadel, commission director.
The Foundation had held off printing its final report until June to see which bilingual education recommendations from House Speaker Brendan Sharkey’s ELL task force were enacted, but this did not happen until late in the month, said Chris Senecal, senior communications and market officer for the Hartford-based foundation.
Nelly Rojas Schwan, who chairs the Latino Endowment Fund, expressed appreciation this week for the legislature’s recent actions. However, the assistant professor of social work and Latino community practice at the University of St. Joseph, added, “This report shows that much work needs to be done to assist the thousands of Connecticut children and adults who are not proficient in English.”
While the new provisions extend the potential duration of a student’s ELL participation, the budget bill did not include additional state funding and requires approval by the local school board and/or the state education department, Senecal noted.
The legislature also maintained the requirement that a district have a minimum of 20 eligible students to receive state support but does require the state Department of Education to study how to use regional education service centers (RESC) to help school boards with a lower enrollment of eligible students. Its recommendations are due in January.
The legislation also delayed for a year the requirement for ELL students taking the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC)  tests and calls for the development of state mastery exams in the most common native languages of students eligible for bilingual education.
Among the statistics that the Latino Endowment Fund cites to underscore the globalization of the sate’s labor force and diversification of its culture is that Connecticut has about 500,000 foreign born residents and this number is increasing. Puerto Ricans, who comprise about a third of Hartford’s population, are  not included in this total but are seen as a “significant factor in this issue.”​
The report also observes, that Asians are the fastest growing foreign population in Connecticut, about 75 percent of the state’s ELL students speak Spanish and 78 percent of all children in this category four years ago attended schools in the 30 lowest performing districts. Moreover, the earned income of ELL adults in Connecticut is $25,000 or  less than half of what English-speakers earn.
At the same time, the report points to the growth of entrepreneurship among the nation’s Latinos and that Connecticut has 14,000 Latino-owned businesses, an increase of 50 percent since 2007.
The recommendations made by the report include:
· Making all districts that teach students who need ELL support eligible for state assistance.
·  Expanding dual-language immersion programs to build a more supportive multilingual environment that can cater to both urban and suburban families.
· Developing an ESL/adult education curriculum for parents that focus on interactions with their children’s schools and teachers.
· Providing additional support to create a smooth transition from adult education ESL classes to college-level ESL classes through the development of a coordinated curriculum.
Overall, what the Hartford Foundation and its Latino Endowment Fund intended to achieve for this report, Senecal said, is to continue the discussion of the bilingual education situation “as there is much work that needs to be done.”
To read report:

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